As of this week, we are back into more normal February weather. Was anyone else weirded out by the amount of warm weather we’ve had this winter? It’s strange to see people at the bus stop in February with bare hands reading the paper or scrolling on their phones. Granted, every time that Festival du Voyageur starts up, we always have at least a couple of days that the weather warms up just enough to slightly melt the lovely ice sculptures around the city so they become an abstract version of the original. If you squint your eyes and turn your head just so, you can almost see what the artist’s vision was. I’m not complaining about the unseasonable warmth(because you can’t complain when the weather is nice in winter), but when it’s rained in both January and February, it feels odd. Like maybe we’re in Vancouver, but without the scenery and expensive housing.
In the midst of all this weird weather, I’ve been doing some really cool stuff around the city lately, like seeing the MTC play Black Coffee (a whodunit Agatha Christie mystery) and enjoying poutine at the Festival while wearing a classic 80’s one-piece snowsuit. That last part was owing to a friend who has a ton of 80’s snowsuit stock. Let me tell you, 15 people wearing matching 80’s ski suits do not go unnoticed. I had a blast and Festival always makes you appreciate both our local French community as well as winter. It says something about Winnipeg that Festival takes place in the middle of winter, when we’ve grown tired of shoveling, and the magic of snowflakes wears a little thin. Nevertheless, every year Festival brings out large crowds of people and often fills the grounds to capacity for late night. To me, the event is almost a perfect roundup of Winnipeg – laid-back, friendly, and full of good eating. Like if someone wanted to see the best of Winnipeg in the winter, Festival would be where I would direct them to go. Where else would you find hordes of people enjoying maple syrup on a stick or such a striking number of folks wearing lumberjack plaid. It may not be cosmopolitan, but it’s us.
The last few Christmases I’ve been approaching the holiday with a theme in mind which streamlines my search process. This year my theme has been books. Nearly everyone on my list will be receiving a book of some kind. During one of my many trips to the bookstore, I was flipping through a cooking/lifestyle hybrid (one of the many variations of Goop) where the author was encouraging the reader to treat suppertime as a ritual. It sounded so great when I was reading it, like cooking would be this warm and relaxing activity to look forward to at the end of every day. Unfortunately during the weekdays, by the time I get home, knock all the snow off my boots, and let my glasses defog, I’m relieved to be home and exceptionally unmotivated. When I am preparing food, it doesn’t feel soothing and affirming. Instead my back hurts and my eyes burn from chopping an onion while I use as little dishes possible to minimize cleanup. I always thought of it more as the weekday routine which is a very different perspective. After thinking about it some more, I think it comes down to mindfulness. While preparing a meal, if you consider the ingredients, the method, and ultimately the reason you’re making yourself food, it gives the task a greater purpose. When we actually take the time to think that we are nourishing ourselves, it takes on a greater purpose. And it is important. At this time of year, we aren’t getting much sun, it’s cold, and the holiday season can be emotionally difficult for some people. It’s at these times it becomes so important to actively take part in self-care and that includes diet. It really is surprising how a change of perspective can impact your approach to daily things.
Once I started thinking about rituals, I started thinking about how important they are during the holidays. Before Christmas, I watch the same three movies. I decorate a real tree, which this year, the cat knocked over. Another big one is that usually our family has a meatless Christmas Eve. On a community level, Winnipeg has a ton of holiday rituals. The Santa Claus Parade is what typically kicks the season off in Winnipeg. I’ve never actually attended, but I have gotten stuck in the resulting traffic more than once which is all part of the experience. The Nutcracker at the RWB is wonderful and what makes it so special (to me) is how its set in a house on Wellington Crescent. The Canad Inns Winter Wonderland has a beautiful display. The nice thing about that one is that you can enjoy it from the car if it’s frigid out, which happens. This year I want to go for a drive through the Linden Woods neighbourhood because a co-worker told me that certain streets will create a theme and go all out in decorating their houses. And of course, everyone’s favorite: the first snowfall. Although not holiday-themed, the first snowfall is a classic Winnipeg ritual where everyone grumbles about everybody else forgetting how to drive in the snow. No matter what, it’s always a disaster. On the bright side, for office workers, it also ends up being a pretty relaxed workday because half the office doesn’t show up, and the other half shows up late and leaves early. Possibly not so much for health care workers (as people slip and hurt themselves) and the snow clearing crew. No matter what though, we all know what we’re in for.
No matter what your rituals are, it’s important to not just go through the motions. At this time of year especially, it’s important to stop and remember the why.
Acceptancy. It’s hard for any Winnipegger. You can tell when it comes to skiing. Despite lacking anything that could reasonably be called a hill, people try to make downhill skiing a thing. Winnipeg is a flat city. The only hills we have are made from our own garbage. If we want a rolling hills landscape we’re going to need to step our trash game up. In the meantime it’s better to accept Winnipeg for what it is. A municipal pancake. In the absence of hills, cross country skiing is a fun activity and an even better workout.
Over the weekend we went to the Windsor Park Nordic Centre which is what the Windsor Park Golf Course moonlights as in the winter. The Nordic Centre is a busy place and has two colour-coded courses: green (least difficult) and blue (more difficult). Unafraid of a challenge we chose the blue route which was very fun once I abandoned every last shred of dignity.
I grew up in a skiing family. My dad used to strap me onto his back when I was a baby and we had trails directly behind our house growing up. Against all odds, I’m still a terrible skier. In grade 8 gym I fell so far behind the class that I missed a French test in the next period. Madame White was not impressed. Back at the Nordic Centre I was having flashbacks to that grade 8 ski as every other skier glided by effortlessly, barely visible through my fogged up glasses as I shuffled, panting, down the trail hoping muscle memory would kick in. Did I mention that nordic skiing is a great workout?
The chance to see wildlife is another great aspect of cross country skiing. We took the Dog Tooth loop off the blue route and a gorgeous doe ran out of the bush ahead of us. This proved to be too much for me and I promptly fell onto my side, crossing my skis and losing a pole as I went down. I found out later, as I was flailing around like a drunken baby giraffe, that two more does ran out from the same place. My skiing partner didn’t want to “ruin my concentration,” clearly afraid for my own safety as well as his. We made our way back to the centre, falling only a couple more times where I admired a big blue prairie sky while I lay spreadeagled on the ground trying to get my breath back. And it was worth it.
The Windsor Park Nordic Centre is open 7 days a week including some evenings for those who like nighttime skiing. Rentals and lessons are available, and the staff is delightful.
Bonus picture of my dad and me hitting the trails circa 1987
Hallelujah. Praise your respective deity. The crisis has been averted. The River Trail at the Forks has opened. 1 km of it anyway. With the mild winter there was some concern that the River Trail would be unusable this year. The very thought of this was unacceptable. The warming huts sat unused! RAW: Almond was forced onto land like a regular restaurant! These mild temperatures will not stand!
Collectively our winter experience is important and there are some key aspects including outdoor skating. Skating in Winnipeg is a social affair and the Forks is the hub. When I moved to Winnipeg, I didn’t realize this was a thing. Skating in the country is a big part of winter life, but we would go to the local indoor arena. There was no outdoor rink and no groomed river. Between hockey, ringette, figure skating etc. apparently you can’t just show up to your local indoor arena with your skates and hop on the ice at a time of your own choosing.
I’m beginning to understand Winnipeg’s love for outdoor skating. For me it started in 2008 when I rented skates and headed to the Forks to see what all the fuss was about. Since that day, I haven’t stopped going. Without fail the Forks is always a great time. This is our community at its best. Everyone is welcome here. From the wobbliest beginner to the most confident hockey player, first time tourists to seasoned veterans, everyone can enjoy without pressure or expectation.
Since then I’ve bought my own skates and I’m working on my skills. Namely stopping.
What’s your skating story?